Sunday, March 30, 2014

Write What You Love

I've seen at least one professional writer mention that he writes what he thinks will sell.  To him, it isn't important whether or not he likes the story.  He simply writes what he believes editors will publish.  And he's had success in doing so.

To me, taking that approach to writing isn't any different than any other kind of production job.  My full-time job is producing code.  I didn't start the company; I create code based on the company's needs.  It can be challenging and rewarding, and I do my best to write solid code.  But I'm not going in every day developing whatever software comes to mind.

Assuming we have technical skills to go along with a clear perception of exactly what editors (and possibly readers) want, we could do just that: produce stories to fit the market.  But I would argue this isn't good for the soul.  Is your chief aim publication at all cost, even creating the kinds of stories you don't enjoy?

I've said many times that writers shouldn't be upset if they can't get a story published that they wrote solely for themselves; after all, they've already reached their target audience.  But if all we do is write for others with nothing for ourselves, how much are our hearts really in it? 

I primarily write fantasy and science fiction.  But suppose I perceive a need for a genre I don't read or enjoy.  Further suppose that I meet a magazine editor in this genre, and she asks me to write a short story to fill a current gap in an upcoming issue.  Should I do it?  After all, if she likes it, it's a publishing credit and a live check.  Being paid to write is a wonderful thing.  But at what cost?  I would be taking time away from something else I could create, something dear to my heart.  Granted, I may instead produce a story that no one purchases.  Is that a better use of my time?

There is no right or wrong answer as to what a writer spends time on.  Remove writer and substitute artist.  Sometimes, one simply has to pay the bills, and if it's not writing code, it might be writing words.  I understand that, too.  I don't know all of Beethoven's back-story, but this seems like it might be the difference between his 8th and 9th symphonies.  The 8th was written to match many of his contemporaries, and it feels dated and not like him; perhaps he was just trying to generate income.  Then there's the 9th, which is nothing short of genius.

I'm curious where other writers stand on this issue.  It might be different for those who have other vocations as primary income versus people who rely solely on writing. 

For me, at least for now, I only write what I love.  I'm passionate about the stories that come to my mind, and even if I can't get some of them published, I can at least look back on them fondly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yes, I Follow Jesus

This weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a personal retreat.  There is a ministry named Rest Ministries whose function is to provide an inn to those who are weary.  It is a place to escape from the busy world and enjoy a true Sabbath rest for as long as one desires.  For me, I arrived on Saturday afternoon and left Monday morning.

There are many stories I could tell about my time there, resting and drawing closer to God.  One thing that occurred to me is that I haven't always been so open about the fact that I am a Christian on my blog.  I have eluded to God at times, but I don't recall being direct.

Part of my hesitation in the past was that identifying with Christ so often conjures all of our stereotypes about Christians (note that I used "our" because I have them, too).  I was also fearful of drawing unwanted attacks for this claim, and I didn't want it to possibly hinder my writing by having a label of "Christian" attached to me.  I have realized this weekend that I can address the first concern and that the second really doesn't matter.

I grew up in church, but that didn't make me a Christian.  I heard a pastor say once, "You can stand in a garage all day, but that doesn't make you a car."  No one is born a Christian.  No one can be forced to become a Christian.  But anyone can become a Christian.

What I saw in the church I grew up in was hypocrisy: people claiming to follow God but who didn't live it out the rest of the week.  I think the motto of most of the congregation was, "Get in, get your God, get out."  Again, I don't think this was everyone, but it was a large enough population that I saw church as a farce.

When I went to college, I was finished with church.  I had no interest in rejoining the hypocrisy.  I believed God was real, but I couldn't act fake anymore.  It was time to live my life the way I wanted, not how my parents wanted me to.  I maintained good grades, but I also got involved in a lot of wickedness that I am unwilling at this time to reveal over a blog.  Take your guess.  Take several guesses.  They're probably all correct.

After college, I got married.  Soon afterwards, my wife wanted to go to church.  It had been years since I had gone to anything beyond the mandatory Christmas service, but I knew how to fake it.  If it made her happy, then so be it.  Time to turn on the "Christian" smile once more.

This time, however, I had a pastor asking me point blank if I was saved.  I'd never heard the term before, so I had to clarify what he meant.  What he meant was that I had a relationship with Jesus - that I knew him as my lord and savior.  What that meant, I didn't know, but I was pretty sure I didn't.  I was evasive with my answer.  This wasn't what I wanted in church.  Just let me sit in the pew and sing some songs and get on with life, like my childhood congregation.  Still, I started to get a little worried.  After all, I thought God was real, and if so, I wasn't on his side.

Soon, we left that church for various reasons, but my wife wanted to find another place.  By this point, I was very much against anything that resembled pews or organ music.  I didn't want anything like that model.  So she found an ad for a church with a man smiling and holding a cup of coffee.  Well, that certainly didn't seem like pews and hymns to me, so I agreed to go.

What I found were... people.  Actual people.  There wasn't anything fake I could detect.  When they prayed, they meant it.  They weren't reciting words from a bulletin; they were praying and even crying.  And they were so genuine with all of their interactions around church.

Around this time, I read "Left Behind" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.  The premise of the fictional book is this: what would the world look like if Jesus called all believers into heaven right now?  Everyone else is left behind, and they're trying to figure out what happened.  By the end of the book, I realized that if that did happen, I would be left behind.

I was also faced with this passage: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)  It was specific.  It was direct.  It was shocking.  But it was also comforting; there was a way.

All of us are born with sin; "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)  It doesn't matter what you may classify as sin, whether through the Bible or through your own moral code.  Regardless, we have each broken that code, and because of that, we are separated from God.

There is nothing in our own power to make ourselves right with God.  No amount of good deeds can counterbalance our iniquities.  It's not like a speeding ticket where you pay a fine and then all is well.

God didn't like that humanity was in sin, but he would have been perfectly just to allow us to remain that way without any hope of connecting with Him.  But He decided there would be another way.

One quick note about God: there is one God who exhibits Himself in three persons: God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, depending on your Bible translation).  I comprehend this reality by thinking of it this way: the three of them are in such a perfect relationship that they are One.  I came to this conclusion because Jesus prayed for Christians to be one, just as He and the Father are one.  God doesn't alternate between persons; there have always been and always will be three distinct persons.  That's another thing: God isn't an effect caused by something (or someone) else.  God is eternal, meaning He always was and ever will be.  Crazy concept, but that's likely due to the fact that people all have a distinct point in time when we came into being.  God does not.

So God decided on a new plan.  In order to permanently and forever wipe out the effects of sin, He sent Jesus to Earth.  His mission was to live a perfect life and then die as an ultimate sacrifice.  Upon the cross, God the Father poured His wrath upon Jesus, and humanity was saved.  But it is a gift that each person can either accept or reject.  The choice is up to each one of us to make, but we must make it before we die.

Driving home from work one day, I decided I didn't want to continue life on my own.  I wanted to connect to God.  I wanted to be with Him forever.  So I prayed my own words to that effect and said that I wanted Jesus.  It was as simple as that.  There aren't specific words to utter; all that's needed is to ask to follow Jesus.  And He'll let you.  He stands at the door.  All we need to do is open it.

Yes, I am a Christian, but I can still be your friend.  Don't assume I follow the stereotypes.  I might not; in fact I try not to (but no promises).

"Really?" you ask.  "But I believe..."  I'll still be your friend.

"But I think..."  I'll still be your friend.

"But I am..."  I'll still be your friend.

My enemies are in the spiritual realm, not flesh and blood.  I am instructed to live in peace with everyone, as much as it is up to me.

If you're reading this and want to ask more questions about me or about God or about the Bible, have at.  Post here or send me an email.  I won't be upset or offended, and I'll answer honestly.  I lived for 23 years without Jesus, so I remember very well what that was like. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lightning Quick Story

I've been working on a fantasy short story, and I typically work on projects one at a time.  Or I at least complete a draft before turning my attention elsewhere.

Two nights ago, however, I had an opening narrative for a new fantasy story that popped into my head.  I've mentioned before that I have a writing journal for just such occasions, so I opened it up and jotted down the words.  But then I kept going.  I scribbled four or five paragraphs, which is highly unusual.

By morning, my mind was still churning with this new idea.  I tried to tell it to stop, to focus on the other story that only had a few hundred words.  My mind, however, refused to comply.  Around lunchtime, I'd come up with an ending to go with my opening, so I scribbled it into my journal.

When I came home from work, my family was out of the house and wouldn't return for about an hour.  I sat down at my computer and typed out the notes from my journal.  And I just kept going.  Soon, I was over 1,000 words, and I still couldn't stop the narrative from forming in my mind, even when I stepped away for dinner and to get the kids ready for bed.

Not long after, I had other things I needed to get done, but I decided I had to finish the narrative, connecting what I had to the ending.  And once I had that, I went into edit mode with what I'd completed, which is simply insane.  I like to let things sit for a couple of weeks before coming back.  But I had the narrator's voice and the story so locked into my thoughts that I felt I needed it all correct immediately.

Anyway, I now have a newly completed story ready for submission.  And I don't know what to think of myself.  I have never done something like this before, and I've been writing for a long time.  I'm not going to complain; I need to rebuild my stock.  It's just really odd. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Happy March!

Well, it's a happy March in Indiana if you wish for a bit more snow. Winter decided it didn't want to mess around this year, and I've worked from home more often than normal. We're expecting more to come down any moment.

On the writing front, I've started working on a new fantasy short story, something quite a bit different compared to other fantasy stories I've written. I like how it's coming along so far.

Also, I've signed up for the World Fantasy Convention this year. It's been a couple of years since I've made an appearance, so it seemed like time to head back. That won't come up until November, though, so I'll have to see if there are other writer-oriented events that I can hit before then.

Finally, a big congratulations to Ares Magazine for hitting their Kickstarter goal! My short story, "Darklanders," will be in the premiere issue in May.